It’s time to collect tissue samples from North Carolina wheat

• An estimated 800,000 acres of wheat have been planted across North Carolina this winter, and managing fertility now is the best way to optimize yield, department agronomists say.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reminds growers that properly timed nitrogen applications are essential to the growth and development of wheat.

An estimated 800,000 acres of wheat have been planted across the state this winter, and managing fertility now is the best way to optimize yield, department agronomists say.

To get a quick and accurate recommendation of how much spring nitrogen to apply, collect samples of wheat leaves and send them to the department’s Agronomic Services Divisionfor plant tissue analysis.

“Tissue sampling should begin when wheat reaches Zadoks growth stage 30 (GS-30),” said Dianne Farrer, NCDA&CS regional agronomist. “Rate of growth depends on variety, planting date, environmental conditions and location, with wheat in eastern counties reaching GS-30 soonest.

“When wheat begins to stand up tall and straight, pull several plants, split the stems from the top to the base and look for the growing point. Before GS-30, it will be just above the roots; at GS-30, it will have moved about one-half inch up the stem.”

Farrer and fellow regional agronomist Ben Knox expect most wheat in the eastern and piedmont regions of the state to reach GS-30 sometime between March 1 and 5.

Carl Crozier of North Carolina State University says it isn’t advisable to apply nitrogen before wheat reaches GS-30, because new growth at that time would be susceptible to cold injury. On the other hand, he says, it is a mistake to wait until after jointing to put out nitrogen because of the potential for damage by application equipment.

Collect tissue samples

“Once GS-30 is reached, growers should immediately collect tissue samples and matching above-ground biomass samples,” Knox said. “This is especially true if wheat is already big and lush due to warmer weather or early planting dates.”

At GS-30, tissue sampling involves cutting wheat plants about one-half inch above the ground from 20 to 30 representative areas throughout a field. Generally, two large fistfuls of leaves make a good sample. Dead leaves and weeds should be removed.

Biomass samples, on the other hand, should contain all the above-ground wheat-plant tissue from one representative, 36-inch section of row. In broadcast fields where there are no rows, growers should collect all the plants from one square yard. The sample should be placed in a paper bag, with the sample ID from the corresponding tissue sample and the word “biomass” written on the bag.

The collecting of biomass samples may be fairly new to growers. The idea was first broadly implemented in 2010 based on research by Randy Weisz of North Carolina State University. He developed a method of using biomass weight along with tissue test results to calculate more site-specific nitrogen recommendations.

His approach takes into account crop-growth differences due to planting date, row spacing and moisture levels. For wheat grown on large acreages of poorly drained soils, however, growers should consult with an agricultural adviser about whether this method is likely to be useful.

Upon receiving their NCDA&CS plant analysis report, growers should first look for the biomass and nitrogen percentage values. These values and certain crop planting details help determine the appropriate nitrogen rate, based on the interactive tool developed by Weisz. This method is explained fully online at

North Carolina growers wanting more information about this method should contact their NCDA&CS regional agronomist, county Cooperative Extension agentor other agricultural adviser. Regional agronomists, in particular, can offer advice on how to collect and submit tissue and biomass samples, and how to interpret and use plant analysis report data.

Contact information is available online at

(The mild winter in North Carolina has caused the wheat crop to move ahead of schedule. This may cause a need to change fertilization plans. For a look at that situation, visit

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